30 October 2012

Namibia: Teacher Strike Snowballs

A NATIONWIDE teachers’ strike which might lead to the closure of some schools in the country is imminent if Government does not promptly respond to the call of teachers by increasing their salaries.

The Minister of Education, Abraham Iyambo, at a media conference yesterday issued a veiled threat against the striking teachers, saying the strike is illegal and that the provisions of the law applicable to illegal industrial action will be applied.

The principle of ‘no work no pay’ among others applies to illegal strike action.

More than 400 teachers from the Khomas Region who took part in a strike yesterday stated that until their demands for a salary increase are met, they will not return to school and will continue to demonstrate at the Ministry of Education office premises.

Added to that figure are over 200 secondary and primary school teachers from the Otjozondjupa Region who also demonstrated at Otjiwarongo yesterday.

The teachers are demanding a 40 percent salary hike, increased transport and housing allowances, as well as a tax-free thirteenth cheque. The Hardap Region also petitioned the Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu) leadership last week.

Nantu has distanced itself from the strike. Nantu has also suspended the union’s Khomas regional leadership for spearheading the strike action.

The Teachers Union of Namibia (TUN), Nantu’s rival, has thrown its weight behind the striking teachers.

“Our TUN members have joined the striking teachers in terms of solidarity. We have given Nantu an ultimatum until October 31 to find a solution to this problem and if after that date nothing is done, we might look at joining the teachers in striking,” the president of TUN, Mahongora Kavihuha, said yesterday.

He said TUN is not interested in whether the strike is illegal. “The issue for us is not whether this strike is legal or illegal, that is immaterial to us. What we are looking at is whether this strike is in the interests of the workers, and that we believe it is, hence we are in solidarity with the teachers,” Kavihuha said.

He charged that Government and the negotiating unions are the ones who pushed the civil servants to the extent of striking. “Had they just provided the teachers with the feedback on their demands, this would not have gone this far,” said the TUN leader.

Margareth Waters, a member of the Khomas Region Teachers Strategic Interim Committee which is responsible for mobilising the striking teachers, said: “We are communicating with teachers all over Namibia. Come Wednesday, the rest of the teachers countrywide will join us. We have something planned for Wednesday. Until our demands are met, no teacher will go to school. We will continue to strike until we get an answer”.

The Namibian is informed that teachers from Okahandja and Rehoboth will be joining the Khomas teachers tomorrow at the Ministry of Education offices for the morning strike.

The negotiations for the teachers’ salary increases are being handled by Nantu and Government, falling under the mandate of the Office of the Prime Minister.

The strike, which has already led to the closure of some Windhoek-based schools, has been called “illegal” by the Ministry of Education, with the Education Minister hinting at the possibility of disciplinary action against such teachers.

“No one has the legal authority to close a school without permission from the incumbent Minister of Education. Therefore, as far as the Ministry of Education is concerned, schools remain open for all learners. Should there be any change that necessitates the closure of schooling, the ministry will issue an announcement in this regard,” Iyambo said.

Iyambo did not accept a petition from demonstrating teachers yesterday, saying that Government only negotiates with “authentically recognised unions” such as Nantu, and not with individuals.

“As far as teachers are concerned, the body that is recognised by the government with all bargaining powers is Nantu. Nantu has distanced itself from these demonstrators hence we don’t know who these demonstrators are and therefore we have not accepted their petition as it will undermine the existing recognised structures in terms of the recognition agreement signed between Government and the unions ,” Iyambo said.

The minister added that his ministry will respect the structures and continue to deal only with the leadership of Nantu on the salary negotiations.

The teachers last week adopted a vote of no confidence in the Nantu leadership, and want the Nantu secretary general, Basilius Haingura, removed, and a new team to negotiate their increases.

Iyambo also gave a word of caution to those teachers currently marking the examination papers of Grade 10 and 12 students not to violate the contracts they have entered into with the ministry by engaging in the demonstration.

“Teachers are currently busy with marking in Windhoek. We are informed that a small and isolated group is trying to disrupt the marking process. All the markers are on a contract with the Ministry of Education and I urge them to fully and diligently complete their marking tasks. Any individual or group found causing disorder at the centre will be dealt with in accordance with the law of Namibia,” he said.

Meanwhile, National Union of Namibia Workers (NUNW) leader Evilastus Kaaronda has called the demonstration by the teachers a “progressive step”, and encouraged the teachers to mobilise parents to join in the demonstration.

Addressing the teachers yesterday, Kaaronda said: “The children that you teach, let us talk to their parents. Let the parents also join us”.

“These workers have been abused by Government. You don’t negotiate salaries for a year. This demonstration is something I fully support,” he added.

Both the Education Ministry and Nantu maintain that the negotiations over salary increases are at an “advanced stage”. Prime Minister Nahas Angula yesterday also said that negotiations would be concluded next month.

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